Obstetrician Dr. Allison Ball and the former Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority (the “defendants”) have agreed to pay $6-million to Cullan Chisholm (“Cullan”), a 7-year-old boy, due to severe brain injuries he suffered during his birth. This is one of the largest settlements of this nature in the province of Nova Scotia.
Cullan lives with his parents and his little brother in a bungalow in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Cullan is unable to control his body due to severe cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment. He is unable to speak, move or use the bathroom without the help of an adult.
Cullan will require constant care, 24 hours a day, for the rest of his life. He is totally dependent upon his parents for feeding, bathing, dressing, and all other personal care activities.
Monique Chisholm was in labour at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital while receiving oxytocin, which induces and intensifies contractions.
According to the Chisholms’ Statement of Claim, two nurses attending the labour and Dr. Ball, a fifth-year obstetrical resident, neglected to discern the signs on the fetal heart monitor that the baby wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
The Chisholms allege that the defendants failed to take proper medical responses when they saw that the baby was in distress. Dr. Ball decided not to proceed with an emergency C-section, ultimately leading to oxygen loss for the baby, resulting in brain damage and cerebral palsy.
On July 31, 2010, Cullan was born. He was grey and lifeless, with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
Cullan was airlifted to IWK Health Centre in Halifax and spent the next 72 hours being chilled in an incubator to try to reduce damage to his brain.
Medical experts retained by the Chisholms maintain that Cullan suffered brain damage in two stages, during the prolonged labour and again during delivery.
These experts opine that an earlier intervention, such as a caesarean section, would likely have resulted in a healthy birth.
There was no admission of fault by Dr. Ball or the health authority, or any finding of fault by a court. However, the defendants did agree to settle the case out of court.
WHAT WAS THE SETTLEMENT?
The Chisholms maintain that it currently costs $70,000 per year to take care of Cullan. These costs are expected to increase as he continues to grows and will likely reach $130,000 a year by the time he reaches the age of 21.
As a result of a settlement between the Chisholms and the defendants, Cullan’s future care is guaranteed through a $3-million annuity purchased with the settlement funds. There is also money available to build a wheelchair-accessible home for the family.
A third of the settlement money will go towards paying legal costs that the family accumulated during the seven-year legal battle.
Dr. Ball is responsible for $4-million of the settlement, while the hospital, through the Canadian Medical Protective Association (a non-profit organization that defends doctors against malpractice claims) is responsible for the remaining $2-million.
The Chisholms’ lawyer, John McKiggan, emphasized the significance of this case as it recognizes the harm and associated costs that are associated with caring for a catastrophically injured child. He hopes that this case will help children who are seriously injured during birth receive the care they require.
WHAT IS CEREBRAL PALSY?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition affecting muscle tone, body movement, and muscle co-ordination. Cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the developing brain that occurs during pregnancy, labour and delivery, birth or within the first two to three years of a child’s life.
The most common cause of cerebral palsy due to birth injury is oxygen deprivation. The lack of oxygen can lead to decreased blood supply to the baby’s organs, and can result in permanent injury to the baby’s brain and other vital organs. Babies with these type of injuries may later develop permanent neurologic conditions, such as cerebral palsy or other cognitive and developmental problems.
Brain damage during the birthing process can occur due to:
- Umbilical cord issues, which lead to oxygen deprivation;
- Abnormal uterine contractions;
- Shoulder dystocia;
- Rupture of the uterus;
- Placental problems;
- High maternal blood pressure;
- Undiagnosed and untreated maternal infections;
- Excessive pressure on the baby’s head during uterine contractions;
- Jaundice; and
- Arching the back and neck.
In the hospital, the obstetrical team is responsible for monitoring fetal and maternal wellbeing during labour and delivery. If a baby is deprived of oxygen this will cause changes in the heartbeat, which can be monitored on an electronic fetal heart monitor. Warning signs on the fetal heart monitor must be examined by the obstetrical team. The failure to intervene in the face of troublesome changes can result in serious injury to the baby. Medical errors of this nature can form the basis of a successful birth injury claim.
If you or a loved one have suffered due to birth trauma, nursing and hospital negligence, surgical error or medical malpractice, you may have a right to pursue financial compensation for the damages you have endured. Please contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers today online or at 403-571-0555 for a free consultation.